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The Point: Educators Need the Legal Right to Strike


Today’s Point was written by Professor Steve Striffler of the Labor Resource Center.

The strike has once again emerged as an important source of power for the labor movement.  Workers across the country, across industries, are striking.  And they are winning.  

And yet, in Massachusetts, public employees still do not have the legal right to strike.   It is beyond time for the Commonwealth to join the dozen other states that allow public employees this basic right.

Toward this end, educators from around the state – led by the MTA -- recently testified before the Massachusetts legislature in order to rectify this glaring gap in state labor law.   Right to strike legislation would allow educators and other public employees (except for public safety personnel) to legally strike once six months of good-faith bargaining failed to produce results with an employer (H.1845 and S. 1217).

Why is passing this law so important?  Why do teachers and other public employees need this right?

The most basic reason is that the bargaining process has become so stacked against educators that it simply is not functioning in the way it was originally intended --  to produce reasonable contracts in a timely fashion.   More and more school districts, as well as university administrations, either refuse to bargain, refuse to bargain in good faith, or use all sorts of delaying tactics until negotiations are pushed into a stacked mediation process.  Allowing workers to strike (or just threaten to strike) will help address this power imbalance and curtail employer delaying tactics.  

Beyond this, many school districts, and university systems, simply do not fund schools sufficiently to meet the needs of students or workers.   Many employees are not even paid a living wage (for a close-to-home example, see the recent discussion about UMB Associate Lecturers).  The strike is one way for educators to force the state to adequately fund public education.   As recent examples in Woburn, Brookline, Malden, and Haverhill have shown, strikes (even when illegal) are effective in getting school boards to do the right thing.  Teachers in Andover went on strike this past week with the very same hope – and won.  In higher ed, just within the last year, educators at both Rutgers and the University of California system went on strike and won massive gains.  

No employee wants to strike.  But union members who decide that the strike is the only option left to reach a fair contract need to be able to legally exercise that right.  This legislation is a win for educators, staff, students, and families across the state.   Please urge your legislators to support House Bill 1845 and Senate Bill 1217.   Find your legislator here